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Marina Antunes [DVD News 11.30.11] drama mystery romance

Year: 2010
Director: Tom Provost
Writer: Tom Provost
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Marina Antunes
Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Tom Provost’s feature film debut The Presence starts with a tranquil scene of a boat traveling up river. The imagery is relaxing and beautiful but it’s accompanied by Conrad Pope’s original score which is anything but. There’s a sense of dread as the song plays on and Mira Sorvino’s character, whose name is never revealed, arrives on a remote island. The house she’s headed to hasn’t been modernized: there’s no fridge, no lights, no faucet and no bathroom. The woman arrives by herself but she’s not alone and it’s not quite clear who the film’s title refers to because there’s also more than one ghostly entity.

Provost’s film, which he also wrote, fancies itself clever because it doesn’t provide many details up front. The film's opening 20 minutes are dialogue free and very little happens before the woman’s boyfriend shows up unexpectedly. We later discover that this is her grandparents’ home and that she spent many of her summers here, hiding away from her abusive father. What’s never clear is who the mysterious ghost (Shane West) haunting the house is, why he’s there and why he’s so infatuated with the woman that he’s willing to sacrifice his goodness for a chance to be seen by her. There’s a second entity (the great Tony Curran), a dark one, capable of manifesting himself into solid form, who speaks to the woman in whispers that drive her mad; he too is never explained.

Lack of detail is The Presence’s biggest draw back. Provost is so hung up on holding back information and parsing out details in such small doses that he holds back too much, leaving the film to suffer. There needs to be some reason for things to happen, something to draw us into the story and the characters and Provost’s story doesn't reveal enough to build any emotional connection to any of the people involved or the events that unfold. There are too many gaping holes that the script never manages to cover and the result is a film that lacks any drama. Even with huge blind spots, characters that are never explained, history that is never revealed and head scratching character motivation, the film managed to draw me in.

Part of it is the opening scene which sets up the story with a hint that the woman may know that the house is haunted and though this is never explored further, it’s a nugget that kept me interested in the developing tale. Sorvino's performance which, even with few details on what she's doing at the old house and what her life was and is like, is quite good and manages to overcome the fact that the character is an underwritten, cliche-ridden mess of a woman with too many unresolved issues most of which we're not privy to.

The film's most impressive achievements are all visual: Collin Brink's cinematography, the set design and the location which combined, deliver a breathtakingly beautiful and eery setting for the story - what little there is of it.

The script could have used a little more work to develop both the story and the characters but what little there is is beautifully rendered on screen so much so, that the film overcomes most of its shortfalls to deliver a confusing but entertaining ghost story.

The Presence is available on DVD and Blu-ray on November 29th.

DVD Extras: A commentary with Tom Provost, a storyboard review with Provost and editor Cecily Rett as well a making of featurette.

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agentorange (10 years ago) Reply

You know what? Despite the flaws I think I may check this one out. I ignored it originally, but I like Sorvino.


Marina (10 years ago) Reply

That's my feeling too. It definitely has problems but it really managed to pull a little something together that is worth checking out.


provostom (10 years ago) Reply

Marina - writer/director of the movie here, Tom Provost. Thanks so much for checking out the movie and for the intelligent review. We definitely were trying to see how far we could go in terms of holding back information. i love ambiguity and, wanting to try something different, we left a lot of things for the audience to debate. Some people love this, others it frustrates. I appreciate your pegging what we were doing, though it did not quite work for you. I am happy the movie is getting seen and people are debating the merits of what we tried narratively. I also appreciate an astute review, whatever the opinion. Many thanks! I look forward to reading more of your work.


Michael Allen (10 years ago) Reply

@AgentOrange - Sorvino is good in this one. Check it out.

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